Indigenous Interpretations of the Avant-Garde: Towards an Anthropology of Contemporary Art
Concepts central to the notion of avant-garde art exist in many indigenous cultures. This paper explores how one of the goals of the avant-garde - the connection of art with social life - is manifested in a range of particular cultural contexts (including Chinese, Native American and Nigerian). Its point of departure is the presumption that contemporary art is that which is produced in the present, regardless of meaning or style. This seemingly obvious conception allows for artists working in a wide range of traditions - whether producing conceptual installation pieces or the most traditional objects used in ritual - to enter the discourse of contemporary art on the same terms. As the anthropological concern with art turns toward cross-cultural and innovative forms produced by those who define themselves as contemporary artists, it is apparent that interpretations of a temporal term such as "contemporary" can no longer be equated with "Western" art world concerns regarding individuality or originality in form and content. Understanding of the varied notions of the avant-garde in a broad range of cultures can create an environment for the production of contemporary art that is truly international.
Keywords: anthropology, avant-garde, indigenous, Chinese, Native American, African
Dr. Morgan Perkins
Assistant Professor, Departments of Anthropology and Art, State University of New York - Potsdam